By Grzegorz Kucharczyk,
Love One Another! 5/2005 → History
The Church has never condoned the many acts of cruelty and injustice committed in the New World by the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors. From the very beginning she regarded and branded them as such.
As early as 1512, the Spanish Dominican, Bartolomeo de Las Casas, published his famous treatise defending the Indian against the greed of the conquistadors. Successive popes stood likewise in firm opposition to the absurd theories aimed at justifying the slave trade with the Americas — theories alleging that Indians, among others, were not real persons. Pope Paul III (1534-1549) formally condemned the enslavement of Indians in any form. He also roundly stigmatized the use of unbaptized Indians as slaves — which in the eyes of some colonizers supposedly justified the activity. Popes Urban Vlll and Benedict XIV followed in Paul III’s footsteps. Deeds, moreover, followed words. Hence the appearance of the so-called “Paraguay redoubts” in the early seventeenth century. These were Indian settlements organized and run by the Society of Jesus in Paraguay. They served as the Indians’ only sure refuge from the slave-traders. Long before this, special religious orders such as those of St. John of Math (1198) and Our Lady of Mercy of Saint Peter Nolasque (1223) had been formed with the sole purpose of buying up Christian slaves. Thus, contrary to common wisdom, it was not the French Revolution that first condemned slavery and launched the abolitionist movement; the Church had pre-empted it by three hundred years.
Thus, when we recall the barbaric aspects of the Aztec and Inca cultures, we do so to restore proper perspective to the canvas of history. There never was such a thing as a “noble savage.” Invented by men of the Enlightenment, this fiction still informs the view of many advocates of pseudo-multiculturalism today. Never did the Church cooperate with the “extermination” of the Indians and the destruction of their native cultures. Alas, the Indians had been exterminating themselves long before the arrival of the first Europeans in America. The Church has always taught that every person, from the moment of conception to that of natural death, enjoys an eternal dignity and worth along with the inalienable right to life and freedom of conscience. This great dignity of each and every human being is based on the fact that God Himself became a real man. By His death and resurrection, He opened up the way of salvation to all persons without exception. The Evangelization of the Americas marked the destruction of barbaric rituals, the end of the cruel practice of sacrificing tens of thousands of human victims to pagan gods. This is the only sense in which the Church contributed to the extinction of the cultures of pre-Columbian Indians. This was undeniable progress — a progress which (what a paradox!) goes entirely unnoticed by the most strident advocates of “progress.”